Victoria Schofield’s Tryst with Kashmir

It portrays the plight of an ordinary Kashmiri

When Kashmir was not explicitly mentioned as dispute in the annual report of the UN Security Council past week, it made headlines in New Delhi. It caused an   euphoria   and triggered a chain of debates.  Satellite television channels hosted debates and discussions on the report at prime times and roped in the “best Indian diplomatic minds” and “defense strategists” to discuss the development and its implications on the status of the Kashmir dispute. Not only the blab anchors but even the ‘diplomatic’ wizards’ that partook in these debates saw it as New Delhi’s diplomatic triumph and defeat of Islamabad. The report in fact had covered only disputes that were discussed from August 2009 to July 2010 in the Security Council.

The excitement in media and political circle over this development may pass on as ‘amateurish’ but fact remains that notwithstanding Pakistan foreign ministers, prime ministers or presidents ritualistically reminding the United Nations about Kashmir being on its agenda at its annual meetings there has been no serious debate on the resolution of problem on the floor of the house for past over four decades. It cannot be denied that the UN Secretary Generals have been persistently asking India and Pakistan to resolve the dispute ‘amicably’ to the   but what could be seen as their serious involvement in the settlement of this dispute has not been there. Since 1971 India-Pakistan war that caused dismemberment of Pakistan,   birth of Bangladesh and six point agreements between the two countries the issue of holding a plebiscite in the state for deciding its future never came under discussion. It is not my subject if any bilateral agreements between the two countries annuls the resolutions passed by the Security Council on Kashmir but a moot point for  experts on international relations.  Ostensibly the reply could be `no’, the bilateral agreements cannot override international agreements and commitments unless these retain the spirit of these resolutions. The last   resolution having bearing on Kashmir was passed by the Security Council in 1957 and the last debate worth reckoning took place in 1965. After 1965, Pakistan never ever dared to introduce a resolution on Kashmir in the UN except an aborted attempt by Benazir Bhutto in 1993. In this write up I am not to discuss if the cause for it not pursuing Kashmir in the United Nations has been for   the country being besieged by internal problems after the 1971 war or its isolation at the international level and equally but to focus on the interest this dispute holds for historians, scholars, writers and journalists to this day.

No issue or dispute in the region during the past  six decades has attracted as much an attention of historians and writers as that of Kashmir. The dispute aroused interest of historians and scholars immediately after India published a white paper in 1948 explaining its position on Kashmir. ‘This historic document contains numerous references to the issue of holding free and impartial plebiscite in Kashmir’. The subject like that of the Palestine problem and other major conflicts in the world despite being   old retains its interest for scholars and researchers. The bibliography on Kashmir dispute is as vast as that on the Palestine problem. In India from booklet J&K Primer –Myth and Reality by B. J. Vergehes to twenty five volumes set of  ‘Documents on Kashmir’ dispute hundreds of books have been written by historians, journalists and writers but there has any hardly any  Indian historians who could be compared with even with Ben Morris an Israeli historian writing on Palestine. Kashmir historiographers have no claim of having written a book on the Kashmir dispute. No historiographer who has so far written a well researched fully documented book on the dispute that could be compared with that of Edward Said’s book on Palestine. Kashmir historians prefer to escape the subject and love writing on   ‘rewarding” subjects like syncretism of faiths and mysticism.

 It can be safely said Kashmir dispute has been largely a subject with British and American authors. The latest to addition to the vast list of book on Kashmir is ‘Kashmir in Conflict by Victoria Schofield published by I.B. Tauris and Co London and New York. The book which was published originally in 200O has been updated and reprinted with an afterword in 2010. The book comprising a preface, ten chapters and an afterword spread over 318 pages is an important addition to literature on Kashmir conflict. In her preface to the book the author writes that ‘what distinguishes the Kashmir conflict from other regional disputes is that, in order to effect the ceasefire in 1948 the Indian government made a formal complaint to the security council of the United Nations against Pakistan’s aggression. The complaint against Pakistan in an international forum turned dispute between two countries into an issue which demanded international attention.” Cursorily looking at the development that followed this act of Indian leadership, she very beautifully sums up the uncertainty looming large in the state from this date: “The Kashmiri conflict remains both a struggle for land as well as about the rights of people to determine their future. To date, no consensus has been reached between India and Pakistan, nor with the people, on the future of the state, merely an unacknowledged status quo, to which there appears to be a curious attachment lest any alteration cause even greater trauma to the region. In addition, there is still no obvious ‘collective’ will amongst the heterogeneous inhabitants of the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, whose state has now been divided for over half as long as it was ever a unified whole. In the crossfire of multiple objectives remain the lives, and sadly often violent deaths of men, women and children who have been caught up in a deadly war of words and weapons, which seems unending.”

In her introduction to the book the author gives a graphic account of the history of this land from ancient times to the birth of the conflict over future its. The strategic importance of this land has in fact worked against the interest of its people. “Had the State of Jammu and Kashmir been situated almost anywhere else in the sub-Continent” to quote Alastair Lamb, “The Indo-Pak argument over future might not have been conducted with particular intensity”. The birth of Kashmir tragedy can be traced to the 19th    century ‘fear’ of the British and it was for this ‘fear’ that they counted Kashmir to be an ideal buffer against potential incursion from  Russia, Afghanistan and China into the sub-continent.   In the chapters titled ‘Independence’ and accession author not  only provides deep insight into accession theories but presents Kashmir dispute in right historical perspective. The book while chronicling the various developments after the birth of the dispute vividly brings out the plight of ordinary Kashmiris. The chapter ‘Vale of terrors’ tells horrendous tales about the death and destruction that visited the state during nineties. “Until a political process, acceptable to all protagonists, could be initiated” writes Schofield, “the Indian government remained dependent upon armed forces”.

The peace process that was initiated   between the two countries in 2002 has been documented in chapter in the afterword of the book. In 2003 President Musharraf ‘made a  starting alteration’ in Pakistan’s position on Kashmir by proposing the four point formula which the author believes was not ‘original’ but ‘significantly Pakistan was no longer insisting on plebiscite.’ The chapter sums up all the developments at the state level and between India and Pakistan from 2002 to 2009. It very subtly suggests that the Musharraf’s altering Pakistan stand had placed New Delhi on a strong pedestal on Kashmir and how the 2007 developments provided an edge to it. “Although distinct from the Kashmir issue, the unstable political situation in Pakistan meant that the government was not in strong position to make any diplomatic demands in relation to Kashmir nor to advance peace process.”   Kashmir sliding from news into headlines into oblivion had made many commentators writes Schofield to believe, “that the dispute, such as it was now……would simply resolve itself out of sheer exhaustion.’

The author believing that while India and Pakistan peace process was on hold, there could be no hope for the resolving the Kashmir ends it at the note:
For solution to be viable, genuine representation from among the of the state has to be included and conflicting opinions reconciled.

(Comment at zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)